Sometimes you have nothing to lose by doing a procedure that you may never have done before, if the patient is going to die or deteriorate without it.
In today’s competency-based-training-and-accreditation climate (a good thing), how does one achieve competence in a procedure that may be too rare to have even been seen, let alone practiced under supervision and formally assessed?
I spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince colleagues and trainees that there are situations where the benefit-harm equation is in favour of acting, despite reservations they may have about inadequate experience or training. These situations often require ‘surgical’ procedures. What they have in common is that they are all relatively simple to perform, but may save a life, a limb, or sight which otherwise may almost certainly be lost.
How best to train for these procedures, some of which may be too rare even for ‘see one, do one, teach one’ in an entire residency program? Simulators? Animal labs? Cadavers?
In my view, the answer is to use the most high fidelity simulator in the universe – the human brain. It is those professionals who mentally rehearse the scenario and visualise the procedure over and over who are most likely to act when the patient needs it most. Several colleagues of mine over the years can recount incidents in which the indications for a thoracotomy or hysterotomy were present but they failed to act, talking themselves out of doing the procedure with a range of excuses from ‘I hadn’t had enough training’ to ‘No-one in the room wanted to do it’. Don’t be one of those! Get simulating now – you have all the equipment you need!
Ten steps to making it happen – be prepared
1. Pick a procedure (eg. thoracotomy)
2. Be ABSOLUTELY CLEAR on the indications – this helps remove any doubt when the time comes
3. Learn how to do it (talk to colleagues, read a book)
4. Know where the required equipment is kept
5. Start practicing in your mind – visualise seeing the patient, what you will say to your staff, where you will locate your equipment, what you will do procedurally step-by-step
6. Visualise possible outcomes and what your next steps would be (tamponade plus cardiac wound in a beating heart, tamponade plus wound plus VF, return of spontaneous circulation with bleeding from internal mammary arteries)
7. Read more and talk to more colleagues based on questions arising from your ‘simulations’
8. Travel, go on a course, get access to animal or cadaver labs if that’s an option in your setting
9. Speak to people who have done it in YOUR context (eg. for a resus room thoracotomy, talk to emergency physicians who have done it there, rather than a cardiothoracic surgeon who has only ever done them in the operating room)
10. Find an excuse on shift to talk about it to colleagues and rehearse the steps, locate the equipment, and so on. Remember: REPETITION IS THE MOTHER OF SKILL!
What’s on your list of life/limb/sight-saving procedures that can’t wait for someone else to do? Did I miss any? Should skull trephination be there? Comments welcome!